News & Opinion

R&A follows driver tests with a shrug

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Why was the R&A testing drivers before the British Open?

Well, it’s not really clear why.

Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive officer, said the organization takes a serious approach toward its governance role, which includes equipment standards. That’s why the R&A sought to test players’ drivers straight out of the bag here at Carnoustie Golf Links, site of the 147th British Open, which begins today (tee times).

But in the next breath, Slumbers said the testing was driven by the R&A’s effort to advance the Open and provide a service to help ensure that golfers are competing with clubs that conform to standards approved by the USGA and R&A.

So, the R&A is trying to learn about driver characteristics purely from its responsibility as a governing body. Then, the R&A takes a 180-degree turn toward upholding the integrity of the championship.

Which is it? Or more importantly, does the R&A have credible information about illegal equipment being used?

Slumbers would not disclose which players’ drivers were tested or the results, showing an incredible lack of transparency.

Rory McIlroy said he saw the list of 30 players who were requested to participate in the testing and found it interesting.

“I wasn't selected,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade clubs. “I did have a look at the board and see who was selected. I think there was one manufacturer that was singled out a bit more than anyone else.” 

Which one?

“The one that I'm using,” he said.

All of which leads to the question of whether the R&A has credible evidence of violations by any or all of the equipment manufacturers.

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” McIlroy said. “I understand why they're testing equipment. If there are some drivers out there that have gone a little bit over the limit, then, obviously, guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much. I'd be very surprised if they found anything this week.”

When pushed again on testing, Slumbers then talked about a question that the equipment world is pondering.

“One of the discussions that goes on in the equipment world is what happens to the CT [characteristic time, to measure the spring-face effect] or the driver as it wears,” Slumbers said. “That's some of the questions that we've been working on in the new rule book as well around that. So, as it wears, they generally get nearer to the CT limit, and we wanted to make sure that we didn't have drivers going out there that are above the CT limit.”

With a limit of 239 microseconds and a tolerance of 18 microseconds, any club that exceeds 257 microseconds would be considered non-conforming.

It’s unclear that the equipment world is actually clamoring to know whether a club hit a significant number of times has a higher CT or not, but the CT of the clubs tested this week by the R&A were all conforming to the CT standard, according to sources.

So where do we go from here?

The R&A seems to be hiding something, even though officials talk about transparency. Their actions speak more like obfuscation. 

This subject is like an iceberg, with only a small percentage of the information above the surface, and the R&A is keeping the golfing public from diving under the water to get the real picture.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli